Solar energy advocates still spending on commission race

Solar energy advocates still spending on commission race   Courtesy of Shutterstock

Solar energy advocates are financially backing certain candidates for seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Those advocates, funded in large part by energy company Solar City, clearly believe certain candidates are most likely to protect consumers with solar panels against rate hikes.

The Arizona Corporation Commission has the final decision on granting or denying utility rate adjustments, and deciding what costs utilities can impose on home owners with rooftop solar panels.

This election has become hugely important for both supporters of solar energy, who believe those consumers should be rewarded, and opponents who believe the minority is helped at the expense of the majority.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce is watching the race for the commission seats from the sidelines, at least in terms of endorsements, according to Garrick Taylor, executive vice president for government affairs.

“The Arizona Chamber hasn’t endorsed any candidates in the Corporation Commission race,” Taylor told Arizona Business Daily. “Companies can, thankfully, exercise their voice in the political arena, despite the desire from some of our friends on the left that that wasn’t the case. In this case, though, we’re not holding our breath waiting for George Soros to protest the solar companies’ use of their First Amendment rights.”

That was a reference to the left-leaning billionaire’s involvement with Solar City, including most recently a $305 million investment.

The company sold future cash flows for various solar projects to a fund advised by George Soros’s hedge fund, according to Reuters.

Additionally, an independent expenditure committee, Save Our Az Solar, has backed certain candidates, including current Commissioner Bob Burns, a Republican, and Bill Mundell, a Democrat. This includes $140,000 towards mailers supporting the two candidates.

Save Our AZ Solar, headed by former Commission Chair Kris Mayes, receives much of its funding from Solar City.

Mayes said her organization believes Mundell and Burns are candidates who will protect consumers from unfair rate changes.

“We also believe that they will work to ensure that we preserve ten thousand solar jobs in our state and that we make sure solar energy remains a fundamental part of our economy,” Mayes told KJZZ, the NPR member radio station based in Phoenix.

Five candidates -- three Republicans and two Democrats -- will compete Nov. 8 for three open seats on the five-member commission.

Burns received close to $700,000 from Save Our Az Solar during his successful primary election race, the only significant financial support from an outside group, KJZZ reported earlier this month.

In turn, Burns has tried to force Arizona Public Service to reveal whether it was responsible for spending $3.2 million in commission races in 2014. APS recently sued Burns in an attempt to fight off a demand that it reveal its political spending in the last five years.

Arizona has the second-highest number of homes that use solar energy behind California. Over 300,000 are equipped with them, according to Solar Energy Industries Association.

Earlier this year, Save Our Az Solar launched a ballot initiative that would have essentially protected solar customers against rate hikes, continued “net metering” and barred utilities from charging solar customers based on “peak demand.”

Opponents believed this was another move to reward a small number of consumers at the expense of the majority.

Legislators successfully introduced their own plan that would have placed on the ballot an initiative effectively turning Solar City, and other solar leasing companies, into utilities. Both initiatives were dropped, and the two sides agreed to mediation.

“The majority of people do not have roof top panels, and it’s absolutely greedy of Solar City to try and lock a preferred rate, with the added cost to everybody else,” Sen. Debbie Lasko told Arizona Business Daily in April.

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Arizona Corporation Commission Arizona Public Service

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